Research Article


DOI :10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630   IUP :10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630    Full Text (PDF)

Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought

M. Akif Kayapınar

The model of good governance developed in mainstream (Ahl al-Sunna) Islamic political thought is predicated on the delicate balance between the limitation and consolidation of power, a fundamental concept observed across societies throughout history, including modern Western societies. However, in contemporary interpretations of the Ahl al-Sunna tradition, the crucial aspect of power limitation often receives scant attention, leading to a prevalent portrayal of the Islamic political model as inherently centralized  and autocratic. We contend that this misreading primarily stems from neglecting the theo-political implications of the principle of “tawhid,” a unique feature of Islam. Tawhid not only unequivocally rejects the deification of rulers or governance to consolidate power but also underscores the supremacy of divine law, which is rooted in Allah’s absolute sovereignty. Consequently, it imposes moral and legal limitations on political power. This oversight prompts this article to critically evaluate mainstream Islamic political thought through the prism of tawhid, elucidating how political power is limited ontologically, epistemologically, legally, and morally within Islam.

DOI :10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630   IUP :10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630    Full Text (PDF)

Ana-Akım İslam Siyaset Düşüncesinde İktidarın Sınırlandırılması

M. Akif Kayapınar

Ana-akım (Ehl-i Sünnet) İslam siyaset düşüncesinde istikrar bulmuş olan iyi-yönetişim modeli, tarih boyunca -modern Batı toplumları da dâhilbütün toplumlarda görülen ve bir yandan iktidarın konsolidasyonuna/ temerküzüne, diğer yandan da iktidarın sınırlandırılmasına dayalı hassas bir denge durumunu yansıtmaktadır. Ancak günümüzde Ehl-i Sünnet geleneğine dair geriye dönük okumalarda, söz konusu denklemin ikinci kısmı, yani iktidarın sınırlandırılması görmezden gelinerek, İslam siyaset modelini salt iktidar yanlısı, merkeziyetçi ve otokratik bir yapı olarak sunma temayülünün hâkim olduğu görülmektedir. Bu yanlış okumanın en önemli nedeni, kanaatimizce, İslam’a özgü bir nitelik olan “tevhid” ilkesinin teo-politik sonuçlarının ihmal edilmesidir. Zira tevhid, bir görünümüyle, neredeyse tüm toplumlarda ve kültürlerde iktidarın konsolidasyonu için yöneticilere veya yönetime uluhiyet atfetme temayülünü kategorik olarak reddederek iktidarın teorik düzeyde suistimalini engellerken, diğer görünümüyle de Allah’ın mutlak egemenliğine istinaden ilahi hukukun üstünlüğü anlayışını getirmekte ve siyasal iktidarı hukuki ve ahlaki olarak sınırlandırmaktadır. Bu sorunsaldan hareketle makalemizde ana-akım İslam siyaset düşüncesi “tevhid” ilkesi ekseninde değerlendirilmiş ve İslam’da siyasal iktidarın ontolojik, epistemolojik, hukuki ve ahlaki olarak nasıl sınırlandırıldığı gösterilmeye çalışılmıştır.


EXTENDED ABSTRACT


The model of good governance in the mainstream (Ahl al-Sunna) Islamic political thought embodies a dual commitment to both power limitation and consolidation, a nuanced equilibrium observed across historical and contemporary societies, including Western societies. However, in contemporary retrospective analyses of the Ahl al-Sunna tradition, a prevalent tendency emerges to depict the Islamic political model as solely endorsing power, centralized authority, and autocratic governance, often neglecting the crucial aspect of power limitation. Contrary to this misrepresentation, this article evaluates a critical examination of mainstream Islamic political thought centered on the principle of “tawhid.” Through this lens, we debunk this misconception and illustrate how political power in Islam is inherently limited ontologically, epistemologically, legally, and morally.

Central to Islamic political theory is the principle of tawhid, which serves as the primary limit on power at a theoretical level. Tawhid signifies the absolute transcendence of God alongside His supreme sovereignty over the universe. This transcendence underscores the ontological distinction between the Absolute Creator and the relative creatures. Accordingly, no individual, institution, or entity other than Allah can partake in divinity, and there can be no ontological equivalence between Allah and any other being. In Islamic doctrine, God remains unassimilable to relative creatures through concepts such as “incarnation” or “avatarhood,” and conversely, creatures cannot transcend their ontological limitations to resemble God in a manner.

The second aspect of tawhid pertains to Allah’s absolute and uninterrupted sovereignty over the universe. This sovereignty is manifested in the perpetual dependence of the created universe, including its components on the eternal and everlasting God for existence and sustenance. Thus, beyond the physical laws governing the universe, the social, legal, and moral laws shaping the human world also fall under God’s sovereignty and will.

Considering this understanding, the principle of tawhid serves to limit political power ontologically, epistemologically, legally, and morally. As emphasized by political and sociological scholars, the establishment of political power cannot rely solely on physical force. The legitimacy of political power often hinges on the establishment of a symbolic framework that validates acts of governance and obedience. Throughout history and across various cultures, this legitimacy has frequently been achieved through attributing divinity  to rulers and government. However, human nature recognizes the necessity to limit political power. Consequently, in these same societies and cultures, the divine attribution of political power was limited by a corresponding divine understanding of justice.

However, in Islamic thought, the principle of tawhid ensures that divinity is exclusively attributed to Allah, thereby inherently discouraging the attribution of divinity to the government and rulers. Consequently, rulers’ attempts to consolidate their authority with theological references are theologically thwarted. Additionally, in Islam, the authority to discern truth is not categorically limited to a single person or group; rather, all believers are theoretically empowered to access truth. This safeguard against the epistemological exploitation of political power that prevents the emergence of privileged clergy within Muslim societies. Furthermore, justice in Islam transcends mere abstract virtue, evolving into a meticulously detailed legal system. This intricacy enhances the efficacy of justice application and fortifies it against abuses of power.

In Islamic governance, the consolidation of power is supported not by theology but by Islamic law. Within Islamic thought, sovereignty, i.e., the authority to legislate, is vested in God alone. Neither the emir nor the sultan, scholars, the state as a legal entity, or society as a whole can claim sovereignty. Thus, Shari’a, the divine law, serves as the transcendent legal and moral framework that predates and surpasses any Islamic political or social unit. Rulers are not positioned as authorities above the law; rather, they are subject to its dictates like any other individual. Divine law serves as both a founding principle and a source of legitimacy, establishing itself as the supreme authority within any given sociopolitical entity.

Finally, another factor that limits political power in Islamic thought is the moral order. Over centuries, this moral framework, shaped in alignment with the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammed and the scholarly writings that followed, has played a crucial role in defining the position and role of political power within the broader divine order. A highly sophisticated system of values has delineated the boundaries of political power, establishing its place and status within a larger framework of principles.  


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APA

Kayapınar, M. (2024). Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought. Journal of Islamic Review, 14(1), 121-148. https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630


AMA

Kayapınar M. Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought. Journal of Islamic Review. 2024;14(1):121-148. https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630


ABNT

Kayapınar, M. Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought. Journal of Islamic Review, [Publisher Location], v. 14, n. 1, p. 121-148, 2024.


Chicago: Author-Date Style

Kayapınar, M. Akif,. 2024. “Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought.” Journal of Islamic Review 14, no. 1: 121-148. https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630


Chicago: Humanities Style

Kayapınar, M. Akif,. Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought.” Journal of Islamic Review 14, no. 1 (Apr. 2024): 121-148. https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630


Harvard: Australian Style

Kayapınar, M 2024, 'Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought', Journal of Islamic Review, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 121-148, viewed 23 Apr. 2024, https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630


Harvard: Author-Date Style

Kayapınar, M. (2024) ‘Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought’, Journal of Islamic Review, 14(1), pp. 121-148. https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630 (23 Apr. 2024).


MLA

Kayapınar, M. Akif,. Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought.” Journal of Islamic Review, vol. 14, no. 1, 2024, pp. 121-148. [Database Container], https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630


Vancouver

Kayapınar M. Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought. Journal of Islamic Review [Internet]. 23 Apr. 2024 [cited 23 Apr. 2024];14(1):121-148. Available from: https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630 doi: 10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630


ISNAD

Kayapınar, M. Akif. Limitations of Power in Islamic Political Thought”. Journal of Islamic Review 14/1 (Apr. 2024): 121-148. https://doi.org/10.26650/iuitd.2024.1398630



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Submitted30.11.2023
Accepted05.03.2024
Published Online27.03.2024

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